The Central African Republic (CAR) yesterday voted in presidential and legislative elections being held under a cloud of violence as the government, international partners and UN peacekeepers seek to hold off a rebel advance.
Militias hostile to CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadera, who is seeking a second term, have stepped up attacks since the country’s constitutional court this month rejected several candidates, including former CAR president Francois Bozize.
Touadera is considered the favorite in the field of 17 candidates. The election will go to a second round if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote.
There was a delay of about 50 minutes before some polling stations in the capital, Bangui, opened as voting materials had not been delivered on time.
Sporadic gunfire was also heard during the night, a witness said.
“It’s very important for me to be here, as a citizen. I think this vote will change our country, whoever the president will be,” Hortense Reine, a teacher, said outside a voting place in the city’s east, where around 30 people were queueing.
Senior election officials said that where polling stations had opened late, voting would continue for an additional 50 minutes.
“There are security risks surrounding the elections, but I will go and cast my ballot,” 29-year-old Lionel Fotot said on Thursday, as he went to get his voter’s registration card at a school in Bangui.
Others were less optimistic, fearing that fighting might undermine the vote.
“Everyone is fleeing at the moment. I’m holed up at home,” Robert, from Boali, 80km north of Bangui, told AFP by telephone, explosions audible in the background. “How do we vote when we don’t even have our voter cards?”
Heavy gunfire was reported early yesterday in the town of Bouar, 435km northwest of the capital, a resident said.
The crisis has left many in the diamond and gold-rich nation of 4.7 million exhausted, while stirring fears of a return to the worst violence of its recent past, which includes five coups since independence from France in 1960.
Touadera was first elected in 2016 following a rebellion three years earlier that ousted Bozize. He has struggled to wrest control of parts of the country from militias.
Successive waves of violence have since 2013 killed thousands and forced more than 1 million from their homes.
Touadera and the UN, which has more than 12,800 peacekeepers in the country, have accused Bozize of being behind the rebel offensive, which briefly seized the country’s fourth largest city last week and has led to a wave of desertions from the armed forces.
Bozize’s candidacy was rejected because he faces an arrest warrant and UN sanctions for allegedly ordering assassinations and torture while in office. Bozize has denied the accusations.
Touadera’s international security partners have responded to the latest violence by sending additional troops and equipment, including 300 Russian military instructors and 300 Rwandan peacekeepers.
Additional reporting by AFP
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